(Part one in a two-part series on solar energy options in Costa Rica.)FROM solar panels to wind turbines,options for those looking to power theirCosta Rican home or business with alternativeenergy are more plentiful than everbefore – whether the primary motivation iseconomic, environmental, or based on theneed for electricity in rural areas.By using at least one alternative energysource or a combination of sources,consumers can save money and help theenvironment, solar providers say. Suchsources are also a boon for business ownerssuch as Nicole Dupont, 35, who livesand works in the Agujitas coastal communityof Drake Bay, on the northwesternedge of the Osa Peninsula. Becauseher 13-room hotel, La Paloma Lodge, istoo remote to access the electrical grid,Dupont uses solar panels to heat water –a system she describes as a “hit or miss inthe rainy season” – in addition to diesel poweredgenerators.Dupont, who came to Drake Bay fromthe United States 12 years ago, also usesalternative energy for her remote home,which can only be accessed on foot or byhorse. The system has four solar panels, sixbatteries, an inverter and a charge controller.She bought the equipment in San José.The house runs on solar power, storedin batteries and converted to useable energyby a converter when sufficient sunlightis available. If stored solar energy runs out,a generator kicks in.The equipment cost her family about$4,000, including installation, and she saysthe investment has already paid for itself.FELLOW Osa Peninsula hotel ownerBruce Wagner is working with solar-powercompany Solarsa S.A. to build a resort thatwill run entirely on alternative energysources.Wagner said the Hacienda del SolResort and Hotel – Solarsa’s first majorproject in Costa Rica – will not only userenewable energy, but also be constructedwith minimal impact on the environmentand employ only people from the DrakeBay community.“Our goal is to create something specialfor Costa Rica and be the example ofwhat can be done when developing a property,’’Wagner said. “Being eco-smart isour goal while being sustainable to thelocal environment as well.”For Roberto Meza, president of LatinAmerican operations for Solarsa – which hasoffices in the United States, India and CostaRica and provides renewable energy usingsustainable technologies (TT, March 18) –solar power is also about self-sufficiency.“You own your own car. You own yourown everything else. Why shouldn’t youown your own power?” Meza asks. “Whyshould the government or a big companyown electricity when you can own it yourself?”Solarsa installs a combination of solarpanels and micro-turbines – refrigeratorsizedmachines powered by clean fuelssuch as biogas, biodiesel, nitrogas ormethane. They generate energy by spinningand kick in when there is no sunlight.All equipment comes with a 30-year warranty.Both solar panels and micro-turbinesare forms of clean, renewable energy thatdo not emit chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs),which harm the ozone layer.UNDER the freedom-of-businessclause in the Constitution, companies likeSolarsa have the right to sell equipmentthat generates alternative energy, saidRosemary Monge, spokeswoman for thestate-owned power company, the CostaRican Electricity Institute (ICE).Selling energy generated by renewablesources such as sun, wind and water is alsolegal as long as the energy producerobtains special permission from ICE andcharges tariffs approved by the PublicServices Regulatory Authority (ARESEP),she said. Individuals and businesses mayalso sell excess energy to ICE in any quantityat a rate calculated by ARESEP,although no one has done so, Monge said.According to ARESEP tariff analystEduardo Ramirez, ICE would pay an averageof 4.6 cents per kilowatt-hour to buyelectricity generated by alternativesources. A Costa Rican law pertaining toauthority of regulated public servicesstates that only the government mayadminister electricity, either through ICE,the National Power and Light Company(CNFL) or one of several smaller cooperatives.THOUGH alternative energy is morecommon in rural areas, both Solarsa andthe San José-based company ConsenergyS.A. offer options for homes and businessesin metropolitan areas.Consenergy offers installation andmaintenance of alternative energy systemsfor homes and businesses, and helps homeownersevaluate their needs to determinewhich alternative energy source best suitsthem, project director Eric Pareva said.In 2000, Consenergy helped JoséVolio, a retired Costa Rican producer oftelevision commercials, install solar panelsat his home in the Miradores neighborhoodof San Rafael de Escazú, west of San José.Volio´s home uses a “hybrid” blend ofenergy sources including solar panels, batteriesthat store solar energy, wind energy,and electricity from ICE. The system costabout $7,000.By Volio’s estimates, the system saveshim about ¢10,000 ($21) per month on hisenergy bill.HIS home office and a few lights in therest of the house run off of renewable energywhile the rest of his house uses energyfrom ICE.This system allows appliances that usethe most energy – the dryer, washingmachine and refrigerator – to use electricityfrom ICE while appliances that consumeless energy, such as light bulbs and televisions,use renewable energy, Volioexplained.A “weather station” set up in his homeoffice allows Volio to monitor wind speedand direction, temperature, solar radiation,rainfall and humidity daily. He experimentsand adjusts his equipment to maximizeenergy production.For Volio, powering his home is ahobby as well as a money-saving, environmentallyfriendly practice.“It’s a lot of work, but I enjoy it,” Voliosaid. “I like to play with electricity andtake pictures. This is something I’ve beenthinking about doing since high school.”BUT using alternative energy doesn’tmean simply having the right equipment.Before purchasing any equipment, Voliomade his house more energy-efficient bypainting the roof white, insulating it withaluminum and switching to compact fluorescentlights.Consenergy recommends that anyhomeowner who wants to reduce his or herenergy bill make these changes.“It’s about downsizing,” Volio said.“You have to think about how much energyyou are using to cook, bathe and forcomputers, and you have to learn to bemore efficient.”Hotel owner Dupont agreed thatswitching to alternative power requireslifestyle changes. Being off the ICE grid is“a sacrifice and a mindset that makes youaware of consumption,” she said.“Even our 11-year-old is a meter-readeron rainy days… no TV or just enoughvolts to get through dinner. Candles arealways close by,” she said.NOT everyone is ready to make suchsignificant changes – nor does everyonehave the time, money and knowledge tooperate a system as complex as Volio’s – butan average family can take advantage ofalternative energy, said Consenergy’sPareva.Installing any kind of renewable energy-producing equipment, even just one$300 solar panel, will help save on energybills, he said. However, it’s difficult to estimatehow much a certain house can save;this figure depends on a combination offactors including the type of equipmentpurchased, the house’s appliances andwhether household members are energyconscious.Next: More solar-power options for homeowners.
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